Understanding Workflows & Processes: When to Use One (+ Examples)

Suzanna Daniel
October 25, 2022
September 19, 2023
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We've written this to help you better understand workflows and processes and when to create one for your organization to increase team efficiency and productivity.
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Coordinating and organizing daily team activities is one of the most effective ways to keep your team productive and get maximum results for every input.

The compounding effect of what your business and teams do every day can make or mar the results you get, and that's why every organization needs a defined workflow and process.

The better your workflows, the better your process, and the better the quality of outcomes you will get.

In this article, we'll discuss the difference between workflow and process in more detail and give tips for creating efficient workflows and processes that will help your team work smarter, not harder.

So let's get right into it!

What is workflow?

Workflows are the overall structure of how your team gets work done. Workflows help create a sequence of tasks that need to be completed to achieve a goal.  They are also the technologies or tools that allow for data, information, documents, and tasks to flow easily across an organization 

Workflow is responsible for how everyone shows up to work daily, how they approach their task as a group or individually, and the sequence of all company activities. 

What is a process?

So when looking at your workflow, you'll have a general idea of the steps that need to be taken, but you won't necessarily know the details. That's where processes come in.

Processes are specific step-by-step plans for completing a series of tasks. Processes help your team define what needs to be done, who will do it, and when it needs to be done. 

In business terms, all the steps involved in getting a product or service from production to the final user.


The difference between workflows & processes

Understanding the difference between workflow and process is essential for any organization looking to improve its productivity. 

For most people, these two things could mean the same things or slightly similar, but they are quite different in actual practice. 

In simpler terms, we can say workflows help you with the big-picture view of a goal, while processes help you get down the details of achieving a goal.

Sometimes, it can be tough to distinguish between workflows and processes. But there are vital differences so let's clear up these differences quickly.

The significant differences you need to know are:

  • Processes are unplanned. Often they happen as the need arises or flows naturally. Workflows, on the other hand, are deliberately planned and structured.
  • Processes can exist without workflows. Workflows, on the other hand, are just part of a process and hence cannot exist without a process.
  • Workflows are created or implemented to improve ongoing processes
  • Workflows are the result of a process, and it's usually determined by the design of that process. Processes, however, are the steps that you've taken to achieve a desired outcome. 
  • Workflows and processes can be different from organization to organization. For example, one company might have a process for creating a new account, while another company might have a workflow for reviewing and approving new accounts.

Some common workflow vs. process examples

If you run a business or lead a team, there's a high chance you have at least one to five workflows and numerous processes in place, depending on the scale and size of your organization.

Based on the definition we already have, let's look at some everyday workflow and process examples. 

Employee expense reimbursement — an employee can make a request to be reimbursed for expenses they have incurred, this initiates a workflow that results in payment to the employee or a rejection of their request.

Another example is the workflow a company uses to onboard new hires. It takes these new employees through a series of activities that give them access to all the benefits, information, and authority required to do their jobs effectively.

Workflows might involve sorting through emails, creating a to-do list, or scheduling meetings and appointments. Processes dictate how those tasks are done, for example, by setting specific time limits to complete the task. 

Some other widespread examples of workflows include:

  • Customer care procedures.
  • Product return procedures.
  • Purchase approval requests.
  • Client onboarding.

When to use workflow vs. process

The answer to this largely depends on what you're trying to achieve. 

Generally speaking, you'll want to use a workflow when you need to manage or automate a series of tasks that need to be completed in a specific order, as workflows give your team direction and guides to getting a specific outcome or result.

For example, let's say you're a graphic designer, and you need to get a new logo designed. You could create a workflow that outlines the specific steps that need to be taken from start to finish, like this:

  1. Come up with initial concept ideas.
  2. Create a rough draft of the logo
  3. Refine the concept
  4. Finalize the design
  5. Present the logo to the client

This is just one example, but you get the idea. 

Also if your team is expanding by the day then you might need to consider establishing more workflows. Workflows are repeatable, so you can have an established method for your team members to get exceptional results every time.

Usually, workflows are a way to establish tried and tested methods that have worked in your niche. Your goal as the team’s manager is to keep members as productive and high performing as possible without burning them out; creating a defined workflow removes the trial-and-error method of doing things and gives you better results and happier employees.

Processes, on the other hand, are used to solve large-scale issues that can potentially affect the end goals of an organization. They are essential to carry out daily routine activities and are best suited for more repetitive tasks. For example, if you're a cashier at a grocery store, your process would be pretty straightforward: 

  • Scan items.
  • Bag items.
  • Scan payments. 
  • Print receipts. 

There's not much room for a change from this process, which is why it's perfect for tasks that are more routine-like.

How do workflows & processes work together in an organization?

When it comes to merging a workflow and process, there are many things to consider and questions to answer, like what's the best way to organize your tasks? What's the best way to complete them? How can you optimize your team’s time and efficiency?

Like I shared above, when it comes to process and workflow, it's important to understand that the two concepts work together.

In other words, process is what provides the framework for workflow.

Think about it this way: if you don't have a process in place, your team will operate without direction and make unguided decisions as they choose. This is not good for anyone. You need a process to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what they need to do to achieve a common goal.

Workflows and processes, despite their differences, pretty much serve the same goal —  help an organization complete the series of activities that keeps it profitable. And it's essential to make sure that your workflows and processes are smooth and efficient so that tasks can be completed quickly and without any hassle.

One way to help processes and workflows work together in a team is to document them. This way, you can be sure that everything is done correctly and that no steps are missed.

Another way is to map out your workflows and processes. This will help you see where there might be some inefficiencies, and it will also help you understand how your team works. Once you have a clear picture of your workflows and processes, you can start to make improvements where there is a need.

Processes can vary from task to task, but they all need to follow the same structure to fit into the workflow. And that's what makes workflows and processes work well together— they can be tailored to fit the specific needs of your organization.

How to document your workflow & processes

So, you've decided to document your workflow and processes. Good for you! Now what?

The first step is to gather your team and discuss the details. What are the steps involved in this process? What are the individual responsibilities? How will you know when the process is complete?

Once you understand the process, it's time to start putting it down on paper. This can be anything from a simple checklist to a detailed flowchart or an automated documentation. The more specific you can be, the better.

If you're not sure where to start, you can start with Scribe. Scribe is the fastest, easiest and most effective way to share how to do any process. By capturing your browser or desktop workflow, Scribe automatically creates visual, step-by-step guides with text and screenshots.

Scribe integrates perfectly with some of your favorite work tools and software to create documentation — so you don't have to..

Here's a Scribe in action (that only took 15 seconds to create).

And with Scribe's newest feature, Pages, you can combine Scribes with videos, images and more.

Here's a Scribe Page that explains all you need to know on how to get started with Slack

In conclusion: workflows vs. processes

The TLDR; version? Both an excellent organizational workflow and process is essential to running a successful business, and while there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to creating an organizational workflow and process, the key is in finding what works best for you and your team

However, creating and implementing a process and workflow for your team can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if you are starting from scratch, but it's worth the effort and that's why we recommend using Scribe.

If you're having trouble getting your team started with new workflows and processes, you can start with Scribe to document and create a process for each task that needs to be completed so team members can easily find a reference to go back to.

This will save you time and money and help you achieve your goals in the long run.

Ready to try Scribe?

Scribe automatically generates how-to guides and serves them to your team when they need them most. Save time, stay focused, help others.